I survived without purpose, identity or community for a time in my life. A dark cloud enveloped me. Imprisoned in a dark Plato’s Cave, I was lost and could not find my way. Alcohol had made me feel good. Now it no longer worked but I couldn’t stop. Such a betrayal. It was a time of despair; I felt dead.
Then the patients and counselors at a tough alcohol treatment program unshackled my chains, confronted my defenses and taught me how to feel alive without chemicals or the other addictions so prevalent in our world. They turned me from facing a wall of darkness to seeing the light from the entrance to a potential-filled world of spirit and possibility. Their love and acceptance of the worst of me gave me hope and a community with the drug addicts and alcoholics of St. Mary’s Hospital.
Joseph Campbell wrote in The Power of Myth that more than seeking meaning for our lives, we seek the experience of being alive. We feel alive when our life experiences align with our own inner worlds. I set out to live a life of spiritual, emotional and intellectual adventures; to live true to my values of courage, authenticity and excellence and my vision for the future I felt called to.
I felt alive leading renewal and change in many positions at the Star Tribune newspaper over 18 years, especially my last leadership experience that engaged the hearts and minds of people and opened my eyes to a new world view. I never felt more alive (I also felt a deep loss when this creative work of art was mindlessly destroyed after I left).
I left the corporate world and felt alive in a Ph.D. program that I completed at age 52. I began to write. With each piece I wrote, I felt energized inside. I lived on the side of a mountain in Colorado for 14 months where I grieved the deaths of my mother, marriage, and mentor and wrestled with the big questions of life and the difficult emotions within me. I then fell in love when in Fargo, ND. Those were times of emotional expansion and exploration.
Feeling alive isn’t just the big experiences in our lives that excite and fulfill us. I feel alive when I sit down on a cold winter day with our dogs at my feet, a blanket over my legs and read a book by a favorite author. I feel alive when I take my daily five-mile walk with Melanie and when I venture into nature to photograph wild life and beautiful scenes. An introvert, lots of people tire me. But an authentic conversation with another adventurer enriches me.
We are not entitled to feel good all the time. Feeling alive means we experience and ponder all of our human emotions authentically: fear, guilt, grief, anger and anxiety as well as love, passion, gratitude and high energy.
Feeling alive requires us to renew ourselves over and over again by learning new things. We get comfortable feeling uncomfortable much of the time. Our journeys are messy, inefficient and we make mistakes. We feel alive more of the time as we get better at learning how to live.
Finding who we really are is not so easy in an often anti-human world that treats people as machines without values, spirit and emotion. We will suffer from others and from ourselves on our unique journeys that expand our souls.
James Hollis wrote in What Really Matters that a more interesting life, a life that demands a larger spiritual engagement than we planned on, to have engaged the big questions, been defeated by ever-larger things and to take one’s journey through this universe and to have risked being who we really are is what matters most.